KINGMAN – Three hours before leaving for Prescott where the state wrestling championships were held, Lee Williams High School coach Dan Ondrejka held a final practice. Not a practice where his four state wrestlers are watching film and looking at an opponent. No, this was a practice where it is sweat and mat time. Each of his four wrestlers (Nic Verville, Jimmy Wayman, Edmond Ashton, Dylan Shaffer) went through the paces to get better before going against the best in the state of Arizona.
“Right now, it is just fine tuning,” Ondrejka said. “We’ve watched them all season long, and we need to fix things they are not good at, or kids can take advantage of.”
Coach Ondrejka is in his first full season at the helm of the wrestling program, taking over last season halfway through. He came to Lee Williams through Kingman High where he was an assistant.
“I coached under Coach (Brandon) Clor,” Ondrejka said. “He is a great guy and I wish him well. I have nothing but great things to say about him.”
The difference between this year and last season is that the team had to reestablish the basics of wrestling. Ondrejka thought it was important to have a game plan working through this wrestling season right off the bat, from the first practice to the end of the season.
A student of wrestling, he will watch video of his wrestlers’ matches to help them get better. A lot of times it includes coming in on an off day.
Wrestling is in Ondrejka’s blood, coming from a wrestling powerhouse high school (Dundee) in Dundee, Michigan. He grew up living wrestling and believes it helped him become the man and coach he is today. While he competed in high school he suffered a back injury that cut his wrestling career short and he gravitated to coaching.
“Unfortunately, my wrestling career got cut short by a back injury,” Ondrejka said. “I couldn’t get involved as much on the mat on the collegiate level in college, and the next progression from there was teaching little kids. With little kids it is fun, and you have to teach them the basics.”
Ondrejka hopes to foster relationships with his wrestlers that go past their high school careers. One of the most influential coaches that has affected his life that he still calls for advice and talks to regularly is high school coach Gary Jonseck.
“This is a guy who rode my butt all throughout high school,” Ondrejka said. “Wrestling was a way of life and this is what you’re going to do. It was constant motivation and he pushed me to heights I never thought I could get to. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without wrestling.”
For Ondrejka little things matter. For freshman Jimmy Wayman, some of his wins have come from riding an opponent while he gathers himself and forces his opponent into a mistake. Last season the wrestling program had nine wrestlers, this year 29 came out for the team.
Fundamentals are the core to his success at Lee Williams to the point that he is not afraid to go over them in January when the season is nearly over. With his fabulous four helping to put his stamp on the wrestling program, Ondrejka is hoping to turn Lee Williams into a state power.
“You have to wrestle your match,” Ondrejka said on what he planned to tell his wrestlers before they got on the mat this weekend. “Push the momentum, don’t sit there and wait for them, you need to move and you need to go. No fear, just be calm.”
Last season he had two wrestlers make it to state, Kensington Penny and Nic Verville.
Penny suffered a knee injury before state and could not wrestle.
“This year makes me happy for the future,” Ondrejka said. “It means a lot to me, it has never been about me. It’s been about the kids. If these kids can take anything from the mat and apply it to real life, than that makes me successful as a coach. I want to see them grow as a person. My goal is to get these kids ready for life.”
For all of the wrestling team’s success, it was because of the help and knowledge of assistant coach Ray Sanchez.
“He is a true asset to me and the team,” Ondrejka said. “I couldn’t have done it without him by my side, without his hard work and the knowledge he has.”
The biggest moment in Ondrejka’s coaching came the moment Verville jumped into his arms after winning the state title. Ondrejka thought the training and methods he was taught was worth it.
“When he jumped into my arms,” Ondrejka said, “all I said to him was ‘I’m so proud of you, you deserved it, and you earned it.’” “Nic started something big, he started something that is going to go through Lee Williams wrestling for a while. It is going to ring through to the other guys too. They will pick up Nic’s work ethic, and if it can rub off a little bit then we (Lee Williams wrestling) will be in a good place.”
Since taking over the Lee Williams’ wrestling a year an half ago, Ondrejka has had six wrestlers qualify for state. And one state champion.
Ondrejka’s dream of building a state wrestling power at Lee Williams is in the process of becoming reality.
“I’m speechless,” Ondrejka said. “When Nic walked on the mat it filled me with pride and joy, it made me hungry for another one with our younger kids. I’m proud of Nic and everything we have accomplished this year.”